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Israel Continues Operation at Gaza Hospital as UN Calls for ‘Urgent’ Humanitarian Pause

Written by on November 16, 2023

Israeli soldiers are continuing operations in and around Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, which they raided early Wednesday in pursuit of Hamas militants just minutes after warning health ministry officials of the impending operation.

The Israel Defense Forces described its operation as “precise and targeted.” Israel says Hamas used the hospital as a command center, and patients and staff there as human shields, accusations that Hamas and Gaza health officials deny.

Israel has not provided photos or videos to back up its claims about Hamas militants at Shifa, although it has shared footage of militants operating in residential neighborhoods and positioning rockets and weapons near schools and mosques. Shifa is Gaza’s largest hospital.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the IDF raid on Shifa Hospital “totally unacceptable.”

Tedros told a press conference in Geneva Wednesday that “hospitals are not battlegrounds” and patients and staff in hospitals must be protected even if the facilities are being used for military purposes.

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to a hospital in Deir al-Balah on Nov. 15, 2023.
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to a hospital in Deir al-Balah on Nov. 15, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden accused Hamas of operating a command center at Shifa Hospital, which he called a “war crime.”

“You have a circumstance where the first war crime is being committed by Hamas by having their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital,” Biden said during a press conference Wednesday in Woodside, California, after meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “And that’s a fact. That’s what’s happened.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council late Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza. Twelve council members voted in favor, while none voted against and three — the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom — abstained. Israel’s deputy permanent representative said the resolution was “detached from the reality on the ground.”

The resolution that passed also called for “the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas.”

Negotiations are reportedly under way on a proposed deal under which Hamas would release at least 50 women and children it is holding as hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas took an estimated 240 Israeli and foreign hostages during the attack it carried out in Israel on Oct. 7.

The IDF said Wednesday its forces operating at Shifa Hospital consisted of “medical teams and Arabic speakers, who have undergone specified training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment, with the intent that no harm is caused to the civilians.”

The military also said it has delivered incubators, baby food and medical supplies to the embattled hospital.

After searching the medical complex, Israel said it found weapons, intelligence material and communications gear belonging to Hamas. The Hamas-run health ministry said the Israeli military did not find any weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “There is no place in Gaza that we cannot reach. There are no hideouts. There is no shelter or refuge for the Hamas murderers.”

Families of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7 and their supporters march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Ramle, Israel, Nov. 15, 2023.
Families of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7 and their supporters march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Ramle, Israel, Nov. 15, 2023.

“We will reach and eliminate Hamas, and we will bring back our hostages,” he said. “These are two sacred missions.”

Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with Gaza’s health ministry, said Israeli forces ransacked the basement and other buildings at Shifa, including those housing the emergency and surgery departments.

“They are still here,” he said by phone from inside the hospital, hours after the raid began. “Patients, women and children are terrified.”

It was not possible to independently assess the situation inside.

Hamas said in a statement that the Biden administration essentially gave the IDF a “green light” to carry out the raid and said Biden would be “fully responsible” for the operation’s results.

The White House rejected Hamas’ claim. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “We did not give an OK to their military operations around the hospital.”

Hamas said about 650 patients and 5,000 to 7,000 Palestinian civilians have taken shelter on the hospital grounds.

After the hospital raid, Biden spoke with Netanyahu about the latest developments in the war. The White House said they discussed at length ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages, including nine Americans and a foreign national with U.S. employment rights.

Biden said Tuesday he believes hostages being held by Hamas militants in Gaza are going to be released but gave no timetable. He sent a message to the hostages being held: “Hang in there. We are coming.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths issued a statement saying, “As the carnage in Gaza reaches new levels of horror every day, the world continues to watch in shock as hospitals come under fire, premature babies die, and an entire population is deprived of the basic means of survival. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

He urged the warring parties to “respect international humanitarian law, agree to a humanitarian cease-fire and stop the fighting.”

Hospital ‘must be protected’

On Tuesday, Biden said hospitals in Gaza “must be protected” as Israeli forces continue to target health care facilities in the Palestinian enclave over the claims Hamas is using them as cover to hide its command centers and weaponry.

Kirby told reporters that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants operated a command-and-control node from Shifa and use tunnels underneath to support their military operations and hold hostages. He said the militants have stored weapons there and were prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.

A Palestinian boy stands among the destruction after Israeli strikes on Rafah, Gaza Strip, Nov. 15, 2023.
A Palestinian boy stands among the destruction after Israeli strikes on Rafah, Gaza Strip, Nov. 15, 2023.

“Now to be clear, we’re not supporting striking a hospital from the air, and we do not want to see a firefight in the hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve, not to be caught in a crossfire,” Kirby said, adding that Hamas’ actions “do not lessen Israel’s responsibilities to protect civilians in Gaza.”

Palestinian authorities in Gaza say more than 11,000 people — about 40% of them children — have been killed since Israel launched a major air and ground offensive in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people.

The U.N. humanitarian office said Tuesday that more than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes since the war began.

The Israeli military said it has seized several government facilities in Gaza City, including the territory’s legislature building, the Hamas police headquarters and a compound housing Hamas’ military intelligence headquarters.

“In every location, the enemy forces were eliminated, the location was demolished,” an Israeli commander said.

As its military incursion advances, Israel has rejected growing and intense international pressure to impose a cease-fire to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. It has, however, agreed to four-hour daily humanitarian pauses to allow the opening of two corridors to let Palestinians evacuate northern Gaza.

United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report. Some information for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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